Treading the Path of Buddhism - Daily Current Affair Article

Why in news?

Recently Vice President, Shri M Venkaiah Naidu Inaugurates The 6th Dharma Dhamma International Conference At Nalanda University.

Introduction

He called for critical reassessment of our lifestyle and thinking in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic to establish peace and harmony in the world. We have to think of ways to reduce tension and make people’s lives comfortable and happy in today’s world.

Buddhism is one of the world's largest religions and originated 2,500 years ago in India. Buddhists believe that the human life is one of suffering, and that meditation, spiritual and physical labor, and good behavior are the ways to achieve enlightenment, or nirvana.

Emergence of Buddhism in Indian subcontinent

Buddhism traces its origins to a historical founder, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, who preached in the middle of the first millennium, between 550 BC and 450 BC.

Causes of emergence-

  • Post Vedic society was clearly divided into four Varna: Brahmans, Kshatriya, Vaishyas and Shudras. Kshatriya reacted strongly against the ritualistic domination of Brahamanas and various privileges enjoyed by priestly class.
  • Rise of new agricultural economy which demanded animal husbandry, but Vedic practice of animal sacrifice resulted in killing of cattle stood in way of progress.
  • Patronizing of Buddhism by vaishyas and other mercantile group who wanted better social status and a reign of peace.
  • Buddha preached in pali, a dialects of commoners.

Teachings of Buddha

The core of Buddha teaching is expressed in Ariya-sachchani(four noble truth), Ashtangika-marga (Eight fold path), middle path, social code of conduct and attainment of Nirvana.

The Four Noble Truths are perhaps the most basic formulation of the Buddha’s teaching. They are expressed as follows

  1. The truth of suffering (dukkha).
  2. The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
  3. The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
  4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)

Buddhism and patronage by kings

King like Ajatsatru, Asoka, Milinda, Kaniska, Harsha, etc. adopted and supported the religion. They provided material resources, protection and help to sangha and monks, built stupa and vihara and encouraged missionary work.

Buddhist councils and different wings of Buddhism

The First Buddhist council is said to have conveyed immediately after the Parinirvana of Buddha i.e. Nirvana after death in 483BC.


Ashoka, Dhamma and Buddhism spread across the globe

  • Ashoka Dhamma was based on religious tolerance, respect to elders, and care for the old ones, kindness towards the needy, purity and truthfulness, no Killing of animals. He said no to violence. He adopted the path of nonviolence & he gave up war.
  • The first evidence of the religion spreading outside India coincides with Ashoka's rule as he sent emissaries to Sri Lanka and an area called Suvarnabhumi, which could be in modern Myanmar or Thailand. Ashoka's son, monk Mahinda, converted King Devanampiya Tissa and other nobility in modern day Sri Lanka to Buddhism.
  • Buddhism spread across Asia through networks of overland and maritime routes between India, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and China. Foreign monks who traveled between India and China along the silk routes were responsible for the transmission of Buddhism at sub-elite levels.

Buddhist art and architecture

The three key element of Buddhist architecture is Stupa, Chaityas, and Viharas. However, Under Mauryan rule, several pillars were also constructed to commemorate Buddha.

  • Stupas-The Stupas holds the most important place among all the earliest Buddhist architecture. A Stupa is a dome-shaped sacred burial mound of brick which was used to house Buddha's relics or to commemorate significant facts and events related to Buddhism. Sanchi, Sarnath, Amaravati and Bharhut are among the oldest known stupas.
  • Stupas are usually built on a foundation laid with blocks of stone or bricks. On this foundation, a hemispherical dome (anda) was raised.
  • In later years, the drum of the stupa became more elongated and elevated. Almost it took the form of a cylindrical vessel.
  • On the truncated top of the hemisphere, a harmika is placed, surrounded by a railing.
  • The stupa is enclosed by a vedika. At Barhut, Sanchi and Amaravati the vedika consisted of upright pillars with three transverse bars known as the suchi. The railing is provided with four gateways.
  • A path of circumambulation (Pradakshinapath) runs around the stupa at the ground level within the railing.
  • Toranas were ceremonial gateways around the stupas.

Chaityas (Prayer Hall)

A chaitya is a Buddhist shrine or prayer hall with a stupa at one end for congregational worship by the monks. The chaitya is entered from one end, and at the other end, a small stupa is situated. Chaitya were commonly part of a monastic complex, the vihara.

Viharas (Monasteries)

Viharas or monasteries were dwelling place for Buddhist monks. The term is also found in Ajivika, Hindu and Jain monastic literature, usually referring to a temporary refuge for wandering monks during the rainy season. These monastic buildings carved out of rocks or built of bricks were self-contained units and had a Chaitya hall attached to it with a stupa - the chief object of worship.

Relevance of Padmapani, Vajrapani, Maitreya etc in Buddhism

Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have put off entering paradise in order to help others attain enlightenment. Important 8 Bodhisattvas are as follows: Avalokiteśvara, Manjusri, Samantabhadra, Ksitigarbha, Maitreya, Vajrapani, Sadāparibhūta, Akasagarbha.

  • Padmapani is another name in Sanskrit for Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who represents the compassion of all of the Buddhas.
  • Maitreya, in Buddhist tradition, the future Buddha, presently a bodhisattva residing in the Tushita heaven, who will descend to earth to preach anew the dharma (“law”) when the teachings of Gautama Buddha have completely decayed.
  • Vajrapāṇi is one of the earliest-appearing bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. He is the protector and guide of Gautama Buddha and rose to symbolize the Buddha's power.

Buddhism in contemporary world

Buddhism, as one of the four major religions in the world today, is an empiricistic and anti Meta physical religion. What the Buddha taught is not only for the 6th century B.C., but it is a timeless teaching, surely it can be practiced by the wise during 21st century as well and in many more centuries or millennia to come. Buddhism has a special role to play in the modern world because unlike many other religious traditions, Buddhism uniquely propounds the concept of independence which accords closely with the fundamental notions of modern science. Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said, “The 20th century was a century of war and violence, now we all need to work to see that the 21st century is of peace and dialogue.

Way forward

India’s Dhamma traditions can show way towards post-pandemic life. As the Covid-19 pandemic has made us realize the value of our breath. The past two years have seen great misery around the world due to the pandemic. We have lost people close to us, which realize the value of family and the joys of life that we often ignored. Our ancient wisdom of Dharma or Dhamma teaches us to come together in times of adversity.

Source: India express ,Britannica, worldwide journals

General Studies Paper 1
  • History